Farm Typology Developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service
The U.S. farm sector is so diverse that statistics summarizing the sector as a whole can be misleading. The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) has developed a classification typology to identify relatively homogenous subgroups of U.S. farms. The typology is based largely on farm sales, organizational structure, and the operator’s primary occupation. The farm classification developed by ERS focuses on the “family farm,” or any farm organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or family corporation. Family farms exclude farms organized as nonfamily corporations or cooperatives and farms with hired managers.
Small Family Farms (sales less than $250,000)
Large-Scale Family Farms (sales of $250,000 or more)
SOURCE: USDA-ERS (2000).
The mid-sized family farms (sales between $100,000 and $500,000) are examples of the prototypical “family farm” that has captured much of the public imagination and public policy debates over the future of American agriculture (Browne et al., 1992). According to the 2007 census, these mid-sized farms represented just under 10 percent of all U.S. farms, produced 16.5 percent of all farm sales, and managed another quarter of the nation’s farmland and nearly 30 percent of its cropland.
Small and mid-sized family farms together owned two-thirds of the total value of farmland, buildings, and equipment and managed roughly 60 percent of all U.S. farmland and cropland in 2007. Therefore, they will continue to play an important role in efforts to improve the environmental footprint of agriculture, and their experiences and activities will continue to shape the social and economic well-being of farm families and agricultural communities. Interestingly, the proportion of small and mid-size operations that have chosen to participate in federal land conservation programs is larger than that of